Tedious – This would be my one-word review of Vasanthabalan’s Jail, starring GV Prakash Kumar. The film is so unfocused, the sub-150-minute runtime felt well-nigh interminable. Which is a shame because it seems like the director wanted to highlight a rather important issue – that of the forced resettlement of slum-dwellers in Indian cities, particularly Chennai. I say ‘seems’ since he doesn’t actually do that. Aside from the prologue, which describes the real-life situation of Kaveri Nagar – the housing board colony in Thoraipakkam, Chennai, where the film is largely set – and some throwaway, extremely surface-level lines strewn about the movie, there’s almost nothing here that even touches on the issue, let alone digging into it in any meaningful way.
What we get instead is a very generic, poorly-made gangster drama with an identity complex. It is primarily about three youngsters from the area – Karnan (GVP), Rakki (Nandan Ram) and Kalai (Pasanga Paandi) – who get mixed up in drug trafficking and gang violence with tragic consequences. The idea, I guess, was to show how hard it is for young people who are first resettled in these areas, that are then termed a breeding ground for crime, to find a way out. But again, we can only guess this based on one-off lines and scenes. The film as a whole is quite muddled.
I sort of got the sense that Jail was perhaps reshaped considerably on the edit table. Scenes sometimes follow one another without any rhyme or reason. One minute we get a (rather ineffective) scene of one friend crying drunkenly to the others about how his sister sacrificed her life for his sake, and before that can even sink in, we’re off to a (rather boring) song of the hero wooing the heroine (Abarnathy). Spoiler alert: He wins her heart by the end of the song. This whole romance portion feels like it is meant to cater to GV Prakash’s image in his typical films – the ones filled with innuendo and crass ‘humour’. The other romance between Kalai and his co-worker at the petrol bunk has more potential but is short-changed like everything else in this movie.
There are characters introduced painstakingly in the beginning – like this one social activist said to be fighting a case against the forced resettlements – who are then barely used. The villain (Ravi Mariya) is a bad, corrupt cop. That is essentially his full character description. Oh, and he has piles. I suppose that adds some colour to his character, which even the hero lacks. All we know about Karnan is that he’s a petty thief. We know this because the director tells us so in his introductory voice-over, and we get a couple of scenes of him making off with some electronic goods. And later, we are told he stole 2 lakhs from someone, but aren’t shown how.
That’s a huge problem with this film – it tells us a lot but doesn’t care to show us anything. It’s like reading screenplay notes (not even a complete screenplay, mind) – bad cop, good thief, drug trafficking, gang fight, friendship, romance, gang fight, tragedy, mother sentiment, gang fight, etc. What is on screen is extremely unengaging. I found myself unable to care about any character or their fate (with the possible exception of Kalai). The exact opposite of what you want when you are trying to make a film sympathetic to the plight of oppressed people.
I couldn’t help but compare Jail to Pa Ranjith’s Madras, which is also set in a housing board. The locations are similar but the treatment is miles apart. Ranjith’s film celebrated the people while also highlighting how they are used and abused by the system. The characters there were full of life, they felt real, they mattered. In Jail, we only get cardboard cutouts or caricatures.
At the end of the film, alongside the credits, we are shown a series of newspaper clippings on the plight of the slum-dwellers who are forcibly relocated and the state of the housing boards they are settled in. Those newspaper headlines evoked more of an emotional response in me than the previous 2+ hours. If your film can’t do better than a simple text headline, should you even be making one?
This Jail review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.